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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he is concerned Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi might be dead.

"It certainly looks that way to me," Trump said as he departed from Joint Base Andrews. "It's very sad. Certainly looks that way."

While U.S. officials are awaiting the results of three investigations, the president said he feels confident "we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon." He added that he would consider "severe" consequences if oil-rich ally Saudi Arabia was involved.

Vice President Mike Pence went a step further during a stop in Denver earlier in the day and vowed: "the world deserves answers."

"If what has been alleged has occurred. If an innocent person lost their life at the hands of violence, that's to be condemned," Pence said. "If a journalist, in particular, lost their life at the hands of violence, that's an affront to a free and independent press around the world. And there will be consequences. But we'll wait for the facts, we'll wait for all the information to come in."

The comments from the president and vice president were some of the strongest from the pair to date in the wake of mounting questions over the journalist's fate. It also adds to the drumbeat of American politicians and business leaders demanding answers and, in the meantime, withdrawing support from Saudi-sponsored functions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took to Twitter Thursday to announce his withdrawal from a Saudi-hosted, major investment forum called the Future Investment Initiative, sometimes referred to as "Davos in the Desert". He said he made the decision after speaking with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Several business leaders and media companies have also pulled out of the event over concerns about the Khashoggi episode, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, Virgin and its CEO Richard Branson, venture capitalist and AOL co-founder Steve Case, LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, Bloomberg Media, and CNN, among others.

Earlier in the day, Pompeo said he told President Trump that the Saudis should have “a few more days” to complete their investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We made clear to them that we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously,” Pompeo said following his nearly hour-long briefing with the president. “They made clear to me they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. They also assured me that they will conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all of the facts surrounding Mr. Khashoggi and they will do so in a timely fashion and that this report itself will be transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about, and to inquire with respect to its thoroughness.”

Trump echoed Pompeo's comments shortly after, tweeting that the secretary of state met with him Thursday morning and discussed in "great detail" the investigation and meeting with the crown prince.

Pompeo again stressed several times in his statement the “long strategic relationship” the U.S. shares with Saudi Arabia and their status as an “important counter-terrorism supporter.”

He said between the Turkish and Saudi investigations they expect “a complete picture will emerge for what actually transpired here.”

Pressed why the Saudis should be entrusted with an investigation into themselves, Pompeo said: “We’re all going to get to see the work product.”

“We're all going to get to see the response the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes with this,” Pompeo said. “All of us will get a chance to make the determination... whether it's fair and transparent in the way they made a personal commitment to me and the Crown Prince made a personal commitment to the president when he spoke to him the night before last.”

Pompeo's comments also come amid ongoing speculation that Turkey may have audio tapes that reveal what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and royal insider who has been missing for over two weeks after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Pompeo met with Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu Wednesday but refused to express any doubt or skepticism about the legitimacy of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Following that meeting, Trump stressed that his earlier comments about Saudi Arabia's denials of any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance were not an attempt to give the oil-rich ally cover.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what's happening,” Trump told reporters.

Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S., visited the consulate to file paperwork for his wedding and has not been seen since. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, who has written critically about the Saudi government, was killed, which the Saudis have fiercely denied.

Turkish officials say that a hit squad of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul for just hours surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance, and they reportedly claim to have audio recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered.

Trump told reporters Wednesday the U.S. has asked for the recordings “if it exists.”

“We don't know if it exists yet. We'll have a full report when Mike [Pompeo] comes back, that's going to be one of the first questions I ask him,” he said in the Oval Office.

In his first sit-down interview with U.S. media, a close friend of Khashoggi's described to ABC News what he'd been told in briefings by Turkish security officials.

"I talked with some Turkish government and security officials and they said Jamal was killed. I didn't know what to do. I really couldn't answer. Then I called a few colleagues, again security officials, trying to have them verify it, saying 'Is this really true?'" Turan Kislakci said Wednesday. "They said, 'Yes, Turan, and let's tell you even beyond that, he was killed in a very barbaric way.' I was shocked. They not only kill him in the consulate, but also in a barbaric way."

Khashoggi warned of increasing efforts to silence the media in the Middle East in a column he wrote just before he vanished earlier this month. The "final column" was published online Wednesday.

Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for The Washington Post, wrote that Khashoggi’s translator sent the article a day after the journalist disappeared while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Does Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren really have Native American blood running through her veins?

It's scientifically impossible to know for sure, according to a collection of leading Native American geneticists, industry experts, research scientists with expertise in indigenous genetics and Native American leaders who spoke with ABC News.

The process of tracing one's ancestry is still evolving, geneticists told ABC News, and efforts to establish genetic affiliation with an indigenous group like Native Americans are at best thorny and uncertain, and, in the extreme, offensive.

Some experts were critical of Warren's press conference this week and her latest declarations.

Numerous experts also said that the Native American gene databases are too thin to make definitive conclusions about ancestry as far back in a person's lineage as Warren laid claim to again this week.

One leading Native American geneticist -- Dr. Kim Tallbear -- characterized Warren's Monday press conference and declarations as just the latest incidence in a decades-old practice of white Americans co-opting the Native American identity when it suits them.

Finally, critics said, using DNA to claim an ancestral affiliation with Native Americans contravenes contemporary notions of Native American identity, and, to some in the Native American community, is simply insulting.

Some experts, including Tallbear, saw Warren's DNA test as an affront to Native Americans' spiritual heritage, which is based on long and deeply-held tribal beliefs that the tribes have for centuries occupied the land on which their reservations sit.

Warren's renewed claims to Native American heritage touch on an extremely delicate subject among U.S. geneticists who study indigenous genomics. Several of a dozen scientists and experts interviewed by ABC News asked to talk on background in order to speak frankly and avoid any political blowback.

As genealogy databases have grown in recent years, Native American tribes have been inundated by DNA test result-toting Caucasians seeking tribal certification for everything from eligibility for school scholarships to sought-after tax relief, experts and Native American geneticists said.

Neither Warren nor anyone on her staff has responded to multiple requests for comment from ABC News.

'I am just very proud of it'

Warren has been dogged by her assertions that she descended from Native Americans ever since her successful 2012 Senate run, during which a 1996 article surfaced that quoted a Harvard Law School spokesperson as saying Warren is Native American.

The future U.S. senator -- who changed her ethnicity from white to Native American at the University of Pennsyvlania Law School, where she taught from 1987 to 1995, and at Harvard Law School, where she was a tenured faculty member beginning in 1995, according to a 2012 Boston Globe investigation -- defended herself on the campaign trail that year.

"Being Native American is part of who our family is, and I'm glad to tell anyone about that," she said at the time, describing her understanding of her heritage as having come from stories her mother told her as a child. "I am just very proud of it."

In a subsequent campaign ad, Warren doubled-down on the claim.

"I never asked for documentation from my mother when she talked about our Native American heritage," she said in the ad. "What kid would? But I knew my father's family didn't like that she was part-Cherokee and part-Delaware, so my parents had to elope."

"Let me be clear," she continued. "I never asked for, never got any benefit because of my heritage. The people who hired me have all said they didn't even know about it."

This week, Warren held a press conference revealing conclusions of a DNA test she took that was conducted by Stanford University geneticist Carlos Bustamante.

The test determined with "high confidence" that she is likely somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American, adding that Warren "absolutely [has] a Native American ancestor in [her] pedigree...likely in the range of 6-10 generations," according to the report and videos released by Warren's office this week.

Warren has stressed repeatedly that she's not seeking membership in or direct affiliation with any U.S. tribe.

The revelation sparked near immediate political backlash from President Donald Trump, who called the Massachusetts politician a "total fraud." Earlier this year, Trump had challenged Warren, whom he often refers to derisively as "Pocanhatas," to take a DNA test.

'Inappropriate and wrong'

Tallbear, an assistant professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, has long been one of the most strident critics of Warren's genealogy claims.

Tallbear, who recently authored "Native American DNA: Origins, Ethics, and Governance," assailed Warren’s DNA test campaign this week, contending that her strategy is a cynical one, though consistent with Tallbear's experience in recent years as gene-testing technology has evolved.

She said she objects to how Warren maintains she's not seeking tribal membership or affiliation while simultaneously touting scientific evidence about her bloodline.

"Elizabeth Warren and genome scientists ... get to have it both ways," Tallbear said in a statement pinned to her Twitter feed on Tuesday. "They know very well that the broader US public will understand a DNA test to be a true indication of Elizabeth Warren's right to claim Native American identity in some way."

"The broader US public knows nothing about tribal citizenship and histories of settler-colonial meddling in our laws. The broader US public is also invested…in making what are ultimately settler-colonial claims to all things Indigenous: our bones, blood, land, waters, and ultimately our identities."

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr. released an equally embittered statement about Warren's press conference this week.

"Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong," Hoskin Jr. said.

"It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and [their] legitimate uses, while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well-documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren," he added, "is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage."

Tallbear said she has long been frustrated by Warren's claims.

In 2016, Tallbear published a 47-tweet thread decrying the notion that DNA has nearly anything to do with Native American identity.

Tallbear said the Cherokee Nation has been asking Warren since 2012 to stop affiliating herself with them.

Not all Native American leaders, however, have been publicly critical of Warren's DNA testing.

"Senator Warren has not tried to appropriate Cherokee or Delaware culture," Eastern Band of Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in a statement sent to ABC News. "She has not used her family story or evidence of Native ancestry to gain employment or other advantage. She has not tried to claim a treaty or trust obligation, or seek the protection of the Indian Child Welfare Act."

"On the contrary," he continued in the statement, "she demonstrates respect for tribal sovereignty by acknowledging that tribes determine citizenship and respecting the difference between citizenship and ancestry."

Sneed went on to note that Warren has sponsored legislation to help prevent suicides in Native American populations, identify missing and murdered Native American women, and help tribes reaquire land they once occupied.

'Not a yes or no answer'


None of the experts and industry executives who spoke to ABC News -- including scientists who have worked with Bustamante -- directly refuted his conclusions.

Instead, they contended that the underlying science is apt to be flawed because the Native American gene databases for tribes in the U.S. are so thin –- making conclusions like Bustamante's all but useless from a scientific perspective.

"It's hard to say that there is a definitive conclusion, especially if someone has such small amounts of Native American ancestry," said Dr. Nanibaa’ Garrison, a faculty member in the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

"When you're testing someone who might have an ancestor more than four or five generations back, that's when it becomes very hard to piece out that ancestor from all the other ancestors that the person has," Garrison added. "It's not a yes or no answer."

There are a number of different DNA tests that examine a person’s genes, and they generally fall into two broad categories: paternity or maternity tests, which compare a child’s genes to those of a possible parent, and genetic ancestry testing, which looks at numerous genes from an individual and compares their sample to a broader database.

Warren took a genetic ancestry test, which the National Congress of American notes “is based on probabilities and can provide information about how different or similar an individual’s DNA is to that of most people within a larger group of people.”

Industry executives like Bennett Greenspan, founder of Family Tree DNA and Gene by Gene, concurred.

Greenspan, who's worked with Bustamante, said definitive conclusions on ancestry stretching as far back as Warren's purported lineage are harder to stand by than tests for other races because the indigenous databases are too limited.

That in turn has forced geneticists like Bustamante to draw from databases of tribal ancestry from north and south of U.S. borders.

"All of us -- at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, My Heritage -- we all strive to obtain the fullest, most complete Native American databases simply because Native Americans have historically been unwilling and uninterested in participating in this game of identification,” Greenspan said.

"When the National Geographic Society was trying to recruit Native Americans for their project 13 years ago," Greenspan added, "they had a very, very hard time obtaining DNA samples in the U.S. So, quite often, the DNA samples that have been obtained are either Canadian, Mexican or South American."

Bustamante has said that due to limited Native America databases, he compared Warren’s DNA sample to recent samples from indigenous populations in South America rather than Native Americans in the U.S.

"He [was] not comparing markers to populations that lived in what is now the United States,” said Dr. Michael Hammer, a biotechnology research scientist at the University of Arizona.

Neither Bustamante nor his staff at the scientist's eponymous lab responded to numerous requests for comment from ABC News.

Defining Native American identity


While multiple independent geneticists explained why Native American gene databases are far less reliable measuring sticks for ancestry than other Western races, they also stressed the more subtle, underlying damage that efforts like Warren's do to the Native American psyche.

Several leading geneticists told ABC News that the whole issue of gene-testing is a particularly sensitive one to Native Americans.

"As a geneticist, I don't want to be telling an indigenous people like Native Americans where they come from," said one leading genetic scientist who requested anonymity in return for speaking frankly. "They really don't appreciate that. Their origin story is where they live now -- so who am I to tell them that's not true?"

Hammer, the University of Arizona research scientist, explained that Native Americans’ concept of their ancestry is built less upon gene tests than tradition, including oral histories passed down through generations.

"That's the way they were raised and brought up, and that information was transmitted from generation to generation," he said. "It's their legacy, their heritage. It's the spiritual side of their origin."

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump Organization is accusing the New York State Attorney General’s office of being “unfairly biased” in its case against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

In a motion filed earlier this week urging the judge to dismiss the case, attorneys for President Trump’s company, which is connected to the charitable foundation, argued that former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was investigating the foundation while soliciting campaign contributions on the promise to oppose Trump and his agenda.

Schneiderman led the investigation until his resignation in May following the publication of domestic abuse allegations against him in The New Yorker. He was replaced by Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who filed the lawsuit in June.

The lawsuit alleges that President Trump and his three eldest children, who served as members of the charity’s board, repeatedly used charitable donations to pay off other financial obligations. The lawsuit seeks to dissolve the foundation and to bar Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump from serving on other charity boards in the future.

Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, called it “highly improbable” that an investigation into years of charitable work done by the foundation “was the product of three weeks of new leadership under Attorney General Underwood”.

"The bias of an poffice working towards a goal does not disappear in three weeks," Futerfas wrote. "This is clearly demonstrated by a statement of Attorney General Underwood in which she said that she considers her battle with the President "the most important work [she] has ever done."

The New York Attorney General’s office responded to Futerfas’ filing in a statement.

"As our lawsuit detailed, the Trump Foundation functioned as a personal piggy bank to serve Trump’s business and political interests,” a spokesperson for the New York Attorney General said. “We won’t back down from holding President Trump and his associates accountable for their flagrant violations of New York law -- just as we hold accountable anyone else who breaks the law.”

Prosecutors allege that Trump used the foundation “for his benefit to advance his personal, business, and political interest in violation of federal and state law governing charities,” according to a recent court filing. His alleged indiscretions include using the foundation’s money to pay legal settlements, support political campaigns and even purchase of a portrait of himself to hang in one of his hotels.

The president has been vocal in his objections to what he portrayed as a politically motivated campaign, tweeting that “the sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000.”

Oral arguments on the motion to dismiss are scheduled to begin later this month.

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Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump inserted himself personally into his administration ’s discussion of the fate of the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington near his D.C. hotel, House Democrats said in a letter released Tuesday, raising questions about possible conflicts-of-interest between the government’s actions and the president’s personal business holdings.

Democrats, citing new documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee, said the administration abandoned plans to sell the current Pennsylvania Avenue site of the FBI headquarters at “direction from the White House” and according to “what POTUS directed everyone to do.”

“These new documents also show that top GSA officials promised to ‘hold our ground’ on this proposal ‘per the President’s instructions’,” they wrote in the letter to General Services Administration head Emily Murphy.

The White House denied claims that President Trump attempted to influence the real estate decisions about the FBI headquarter building.

“The idea that the reason the president wanted the F.B.I. headquarters to remain in its current location is based on anything other than the recommendation of the F.B.I. is simply false,” said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, in a statement to ABC News.

The internal documents obtained by the Oversight Committee are quoted at length in an Oct. 18 letter from congressional Democrats to Murphy, shared with ABC News Thursday. The disclosures come on the heels of new reports from the agency’s inspector general, and a report Thursday in the New York Times, which raise questions about President Trump’s decision to intervene personally in the real estate discussions surrounding the iconic Pennsylvania Avenue property.

In August, the GSA inspector general, an internal independent watchdog, concluded that Murphy initially misled Congress about Trump’s interest in the project, writing that she provided “incomplete” testimony about conversations with the president and White House officials about the FBI headquarters project.

After suggesting to Congress that the president had no role in the discussions during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in April, Murphy was later shown to have attended two meetings at the White House in January on the relocation plan, including one meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, where the plans were discussed, the report said.

Asked twice about the White House’s role by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill, Murphy said the directions to redevelop the downtown headquarters came from the FBI.

Murphy’s testimony “was incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with the President or senior White House officials in the decision-making process about the project,” the inspector general concluded.

Internal email correspondence between the General Services Administration and the White House showed President Trump was being briefed on discussions about the FBI building, and direction on the project was clearly coming from the White House, congressional Democrats said. “GSA is going to hold our ground … per the President’s instructions,” one email from Murphy’s chief of staff read, according to their letter.

At stake was a plan to move the FBI headquarters out of the city – a relocation that had been in the works for several years and narrowed down to three possible sites in Maryland and Virginia in 2013. The watchdog found that the revised plan to demolish and rebuild the headquarters in Washington could be more expensive than initial plans to relocate the agency.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump had long held a personal interest in the fate of the FBI building. The newspaper report, citing congressional sources, said an executive for The Trump Organization had at one point raised concerns that, if the site was redeveloped into a hotel, new competition from across Pennsylvania Avenue could imperil the business prospects of the Trump hotel. The report said the executive sought assistance from a member of Congress to restrict what could be built on the F.B.I. site.

In their letter to Murphy, Democrats, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said the committee is seeking more information and documents “to determine whether the President is making decisions about the FBI headquarters building based on what is best for the country of what is best for his own financial bottom-line.”

The Trump Organization had arranged to lease the Old Post Office building from the federal government prior to Trump’s bid for the White House, and the GSA is now the landlord of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which is located just blocks away from the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover Building.

A federal judge recently ruled that congressional Democrats could proceed with a lawsuit against the president centered on his D.C. hotel and some other businesses and whether he is profiting illegally from their business with foreign governments.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump is again ramping up his rhetoric on an issue he said he hopes can energize his Republican base heading into the midterms, with an all-caps threat to shut down the southern U.S. border if Mexico doesn’t stop the "onslaught" of a caravan of migrants fleeing Honduras.

The president tweeted Thursday morning that Democratic Party leaders "are doing little to stop this large flow of people INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS."

Trump also suggested that the migrants hoping to enter the U.S. are linked to crime and drugs that he said are "pouring in," and he called on Mexico to stop the "onslaught."

The president's tweets come after more than 2,000 Honduran migrants hoping to come to the U.S. resumed their travel northward Wednesday even hours after Trump warned "anybody entering the United States illegally will be arrested and detained" in a tweet.

On Wednesday, the president also threatened to cut U.S. aid to the Northern Triangle countries -- Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador -- saying "all payments made to them will STOP (END)!.

Mexico in a statement Wednesday said that anyone who entered its country illegally would be processed and returned to their country of origin.

While Trump is threatening to eliminate aid, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been pushing efforts to improve U.S. ties in Central America to reduce the flow of migrants.

"We are committed and have been continuing to put in the resources to fund programs that we hope will address the root causes of migration and help people thrive at home," a senior State Department official told ABC News Wednesday.

Ahead of Pompeo trip, Trump threatens Central America with aid cuts over caravan

Thursday's comments were not the first time Trump has threatened to close down the southern border entirely. He made similar remarks at a tax event in May, saying if he was unable to secure funding for the wall he would “have to think about closing up the country.”

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Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fresh off a victory in President Donald Trump's ongoing legal battle with adult-film star Stormy Daniels, his attorneys will be in a New York appeals court Thursday afternoon over another defamation lawsuit -- this one by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show, who alleges that he groped and kissed her without her consent in 2007.

Zervos sued Trump in New York state court last year, alleging that he defamed her on 18 separate occasions during the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign after she and more than a dozen other women went public with allegations of unwanted sexual advances by Trump.

“Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign, total fabrication,” Trump said at an October 2016 campaign rally in Pennsylvania. “The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over."

The president's lawyers hope to convince a panel of judges on Thursday to dismiss Zervos' lawsuit, contending in court filings in advance of the hearing that the “meritless” and “politically-motivated” claim should be dismissed or, alternatively, delayed until Trump leaves office. They cite the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes federal law as the supreme law of the land, to argue that Trump is immune from civil actions in state court.

“[T]he issue is whether state courts have authority to exercise jurisdiction over a sitting president at all,” wrote Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz. “They do not.”

“This action - like any other action against the president in any of the thousands of state courts across the country - should be dismissed or, at a minimum, stayed during his term in office,” Kasowitz wrote.

That argument fell flat with the trial court judge overseeing the Zervos case who, earlier this year, rejected Trump’s immunity claim, writing that “no man is above the law.”

“Nothing in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the president cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility,” Justice Jennifer Schecter wrote in a March opinion.

Schecter’s ruling also discounted Trump’s contention that his comments on the campaign trail amounted to heated political rhetoric in response to the allegations from Zervos and the other women who came forward prior to the election.

“That defendant’s statements about plaintiff’s veracity were made while he was campaigning to become president of the United States, does not make them any less actionable,” Schecter wrote.

But Kasowitz argues in a filing with the appeals court, that Schecter’s ruling was in error, asserting that all of Trump’s statements about the women’s allegations “involved political speech concerning, among other things, candidate Mr. Trump’s qualifications, protected by the First Amendment.”

Similar arguments found success for Trump earlier this week, when a federal court in California dismissed a defamation claim against the president from Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero ruled Monday that a tweet Trump sent earlier this year questioning Daniels’ credibility was constitutionally protected speech because it amounted to “rhetorical hyperbole normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”

Though Otero’s ruling came after the parties filed their briefs with the New York appeals court, it is likely to feature in the Trump team’s oral arguments before the panel.

Mariann Wang, an attorney for Zervos, contends that Trump and his attorneys have been trying to spin the case to make it about something that it is not.

“This case is not about robust political debate,” Wang wrote in a filing with the appeals court.

“Ms. Zervos came forward to report the details of [Trump’s] unwanted sexual battery only after he repeatedly lied publicly about his behavior,” Wang wrote, “and, far from merely denying her report, [Trump] then used his international bully pulpit affirmatively to attack her. No case stands for the proposition that politicians have a free pass to defame citizens who criticize them.”

Hovering over the Zervos dispute is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1997 unanimous opinion that allowed a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton to proceed in federal court.

Both sides in the Zervos case have hitched their arguments to elements of the Jones decision to support their respective positions.

Wang asserts in court filings that the Jones case “provides powerful persuasive authority” to reject Trump’s arguments that defending the lawsuit would consume an inordinate amount of his time and impede his ability to do his job.

“That is precisely the factual claim that President Clinton made in Jones,” Wang wrote, “and the Supreme Court unanimously rejected it.”

Trump’s attorneys, though, point out in their legal briefs what they argue is a critical distinction: While the Zervos case was filed in state court, the Jones case was brought in federal court and concerned a dispute between two branches of the federal government.

The president’s lawyers have highlighted in their arguments that the Supreme Court opinion in the Jones case, authored by former Justice John Paul Stevens, essentially punted on the question of whether it would apply similarly to immunity claims in civil lawsuits filed in state courts.

“Whether those concerns would present a more compelling case for immunity is a question that is not before us,” Stevens wrote.

Stevens also noted in the opinion that allowing the Jones case to move forward against Clinton would be “unlikely to occupy any substantial amount” of his time.

That prediction turned out to be wildly off-the-mark. Clinton’s deposition in the case – along with his grand jury testimony focused on his relationship with Monica Lewinsky – eventually led to his impeachment in the House of Representatives.

In arguing for dismissing or delaying the Zervos case, Trump’s lawyers emphasized the fallout from that decision on the Clinton presidency.

“It is beyond reasonable debate that a private action can occupy an inordinate amount of time, derail an agenda, and impede the ability to govern,” Kasowitz wrote.

Kasowitz has suggested in court hearings that the Zervos case will eventually work its way up to the Supreme Court, which is now at full strength with the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s second nominee to be seated on the high court.

But the case, which is now at pre-trial discovery at the trial court level, will first have to work its way through the state court system, which could take several months or more. If Trump loses this round, the next step would be the Court of Appeals in New York, the state’s highest court.

Zervos’ legal team has issued subpoenas to the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization requesting documents associated with Trump’s statements about her and other women who accused the president of sexual misconduct.

They is also seeking outtakes from episodes of "The Apprentice" and records from the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Zervos alleges Trump groped her during what she thought was going to be a business meeting.

Zervos will ultimately seek to depose the president.

A hearing is scheduled next week on her motion to compel Trump and his campaign to provide documents and information about the other women who went public with complaints. Trump’s attorneys have resisted the request, but Zervos’ legal team contends the information is “material and necessary” to her case.

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Alexandria Sheriff’s Department (WASHINGTON) -- A senior Treasury Department employee was arrested this week and charged with leaking “highly sensitive information” about suspects in the high-profile investigation into Russia's meddling in the presidential election, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior adviser at the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), allegedly "betrayed her position of trust” by leaking confidential banking reports on the Russian Embassy and suspects charged in special counsel Robert Muller’s Russian collusion probe, the government said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors said Edwards, of Quinton, Virginia, provided a journalist with confidential material, including suspicious activity reports (SARs) on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and political consultant Rick Gates, according to the statement.

Banks are required to submit suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they observe transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct.

Edwards, 40, was also accused of unlawfully disclosing confidential financial data on the Russian Embassy and alleged Russian agent Maria Butina, the statement said.

Investigators said they found evidence indicating that Edwards had leaked “numerous” SARs between October 2017 and the time of her arrest Tuesday.

“At the time of Edwards’s arrest, she was in possession of a flash drive appearing to be the flash drive on which she saved the unlawfully disclosed SARs, and a cellphone containing numerous communications over an encrypted application in which she transmitted SARs and other sensitive government information to Reporter-1,” a federal official said in the complaint.

Authorities say she took photographs of the documents and then leaked it to a reporter. When questioned by law enforcement, officials say Edwards confessed she provided the documents to a reporter via an encrypted application.

Investigators also connected Edwards to the reporter in question through phone records. Edwards admitted to accessing the SARs, photographing them and sending them to the reporter using an encrypted app, according to the complaint.

The Justice Department did not release the reporter’s identity, but charging documents listed nearly a dozen articles published by BuzzFeed News over the past year and a half.

A spokesman for BuzzFeed did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not say whether he believes calling Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" is fair game on the campaign trail.

Speaking at an event Tuesday night sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation to discuss the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, McConnell invoked the nickname, favored by President Donald Trump, and considered racially offensive, to refer to Warren.

"I understand you just got to hear from Lindsey Graham,” McConnell said at the event, referring to the South Carolina senator who had spoken before him at the event. “You know how the president likes to give nicknames to people. Elizabeth Warren is 'Pocahontas.' You noticed that Lindsey said he's going to have his DNA tested, did he mention that to you? The president will probably soon be calling him 'Sitting Bull'."

Sitting Bull was a Native American chief who helped unite the Sioux in their efforts to defend themselves in the nation's Great Plains region. Pocahontas was a historical figure often revered for her role as a Colonial-era emissary.

McConnell was referencing Graham’s quip on Fox News earlier that day about hypothetically taking his own DNA test.

Graham said it would be “like, terrible” if he took a DNA test and found out he was “Iranian.” Graham is a frequent critic of the Iranian regime.

Asked during a roundtable Wednesday with TV network reporters if his use of “Pocahontas” meant it was fair game for candidates to use such racially-tinged words to describe Democrats, he responded, “I don’t have a comment on that.”

Native American groups have previously criticized Trump’s invocation of “Pocahontas” to refer to the Massachusetts Democrat.

After he used the name at an event honoring Native American veterans in November of last year, the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, an association of American Indian nations, released a statement saying “the name becomes a derogatory racial reference when used as an insult.”

Warren herself has also referred to her being called “Pocahontas” as a “racial slur.” She has defended herself against her critics by claiming she was told of her Native American ancestry by family members and that the registry entry was for meeting persons with similar backgrounds, rather than to advance her career.

A spokeswoman for Warren did not respond to a request for comment about McConnell’s statement.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. released a statement Monday criticizing Warren’s use of a DNA test to bolster her campaign argument.

“Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens... Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage,” Hoskin said.

During Wednesday’s reporter roundtable, McConnell also weighed in on the upcoming midterm elections, saying he believes the Kavanaugh confirmation was a shot in the arm for Republican enthusiasm which will pay bigger dividends “the redder the state is.”

As he has in the past, McConnell also named the Senate races he believes are the closest, most of which are states Trump won in 2016 but which have Democratic incumbents. Democrats are defending ten such seats this year.

“It’s pretty obvious that we have very competitive races in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida,” he said.

But he said he would rather be in Republicans’ position, in control of the Senate with 51 seats, than in Democrats’, with 49 seats and facing an uphill climb to defend all ten states and make net gains in order to regain control of the chamber.

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- Prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office have been asking former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — their newest cooperating witness — about his friend and former business associate Roger Stone, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.

Stone, a longtime political adviser to President Donald Trump and onetime partner of Manafort’s at the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, has come under increasing scrutiny from the special counsel in recent months. Nearly a dozen individuals close to Stone have been brought in for interviews with the Mueller team, and many of those same individuals have also appeared before a federal grand jury.

Mueller’s interest in Stone appears to be focused on whether Stone or his associates communicated with Julian Assange or WikiLeaks about the release of damaging emails allegedly hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign by Russian intelligence officers masquerading as hacker persona “Guccifer 2.0.”

Some of Stone’s public statements from that time appeared to indicate that he knew in advance that WikiLeaks was preparing to publish information damaging to Clinton’s campaign.

The special counsel’s office did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Manafort declined to comment.

When asked what questions Mueller’s team might be asking Manafort — who recently pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in Washington, D.C. and is awaiting sentencing on 18 counts of financial crimes in Virginia — Stone told ABC News that it “certainly wouldn’t be surprising” that his investigators would question Manafort about him since he and Manafort “have been friends since childhood.”

"I am highly confident Mr. Manafort is aware of no wrong doing on my part during the 2016 campaign, or at any other time, and therefore there is no wrongdoing to know about,” Stone said. “Narratives to the contrary by some in the media are false and defamatory."

Manafort and Stone’s ties indeed run deep. In the early 1970s, Manafort and Stone both frequented the same circles of young GOP operatives working on national political campaigns. In 1977, when Stone was 24, he was elected president of the Young Republicans. Paul Manafort was his campaign manager.

And both men had tumultuous tenures at the Trump campaign. Stone, who has taken credit for persuading President Trump to get into politics, served as an adviser to Trump’s campaign before leaving amid controversy in 2015. Manafort served as Trump campaign chairman before resigning suddenly just a few months before Election Day.

Stone, meanwhile, appears to have steeled himself for the possibility that he could be one of Mueller’s next targets.

“It’s not outside the realm of possibility,” Stone previously told ABC News, “that [Mueller] may consider bringing some offense against me.”

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ABCNews.com(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on the members of his Cabinet to draw up proposals to cut spending for their respective agency budgets by 5 percent, and although he didn't make a direct connection, his call came after news earlier this week that the federal government ran up its largest annual deficit in six years.

“I’m going to ask each of you to come back with a 5 percent cut for our next meeting, I think you’ll all be able to do it,” President Trump told his assembled Cabinet, reserving the possibility that there could be a “special exemption” for a department or two but that others may be able to make more dramatic cuts than 5 percent.

“I think you can do it, so I'd like to have everyone sitting around the table, your incredible domains you preside over, in some cases very well, in some cases brilliantly, I would like you to come back with a 5 percent cut,” Trump said. “Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste. ... It will have a huge impact.”

Dubbing it the “one-year nickel plan,” President Trump expressed a belief that the government could make significant progress toward bringing down government spending by making modest cuts to each executive department.

Seemingly offering a defense of having signed a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package back in March, which included $700 billion for the military that Trump argued was necessary as a matter of national defense, Trump said the federal government is now in a position to tighten its belt.

“Now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things we weren't into in a position to do when I first came,” Trump said.

But while the president can call on his Cabinet secretaries to propose spending cuts, ultimately it’s up to Congress to approve the federal budget.

The Treasury Department said Monday that the government ran up a $779 billion deficit this past fiscal year – a 17 percent increase from the $666 billion deficit the fiscal year prior.

The news of the deficit flew in the face of the Trump administration’s previous declarations that the GOP trillion-dollar-plus tax cut plan, passed late last year, would pay for itself by generating economic growth.

"Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt," Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said at the time.

"You will see faster economic growth result from this bill. You will see higher wages, more jobs, bigger paychecks, bigger GDP, and if you see a bigger economy, that means you get more revenue," House Speaker Paul Ryan said at the time.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, for his part, declared at the time that it will be "beyond revenue neutral," even as multiple outside economic analyses said otherwise.

On Wednesday, McConnell defended the 17 percent increase in the deficit this year. While he said Tuesday that it was because of bipartisan refusal to touch entitlements, he added Wednesday that it also had to do with increases in domestic spending that Republicans had to agree to in order to get their desired defense spending boost.

“I think we ended up spending more because of the contingencies that we were facing,” he said.

Democrats were quick to pounce on the news of the deficit increase earlier this week.

"Republicans passed a tax scam for the rich that is adding $2 trillion to the deficit in order to give massive tax breaks to Big Pharma, big banks, big corporations shipping jobs overseas and the wealthiest 1 percent," Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Under the Republican agenda, the rich get richer, and everyone else is stuck paying the bill.

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Courtesy Sgt. Major John Canley(WASHINGTON) -- Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. John L. Canley was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House on Wednesday, 50 years after the heroism he displayed during the bloody "Battle of Hue" in the Vietnam War.

Normally, a recipient must be presented the medal within five years of his gallantry. But as time passed, and even though Canley had received other high honors, his fellow Marines, remembering how he risked his life repeatedly to rescue his wounded comrades, thought he deserved more, and campaigned for his case to be reviewed.

Now, because of that effort, Canley has made history: becoming the 300th Marine to receive the nation's highest award for valor.

In presenting the Medal of Honor to Canley President Trump called Canley "truly larger than life."

On January 31, 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched the Tet Offensive, a series of surprise attacks to seize cities and towns throughout South Vietnam, including Hue. What followed in Hue was an almost month-long battle by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces to retake the city in fierce urban combat.

On the first day of the battle, then-Gunnery Sgt. Canley assumed command of Company A, First Battalion, First Marines after the captain in command was severely wounded in the early fighting.

Canley led his company's men through intense fighting over the course of the next week fending off multiple enemy attacks and leading attacks on enemy targets.

At the time, Canley's company was moving along a highway toward Hue City to help relieve friendly forces surrounded in the surprise attack on the city. Over the course of the next week, the company of 150 men would see heavy combat and take a high number of casualties.

"In the days that followed John led his company through the fog and rain, and in house-to-house, very vicious, very hard combat," said President Trump.

"He assaulted enemy strongholds, killed enemy fighters, and with deadly accuracy did everything you had to do," said Trump. "He raced into heavy machine gun fire on many occasions, all to save his fellow Marines."

"In one harrowing engagement after another John risked his own life to save the lives of those under his command," said Trump.

Trump said Canley was personally responsible for having saved the lives of 20 Marines under his command.

On Feb. 4, Canley led his company in taking over an enemy occupied school building, personally dropping a large explosive charge that led to heavy Viet Cong casualties and led the remainder to flee the building.

Two days later, he led a successful attack to retake a hospital compound from Viet Cong fighters. During that effort he exposed himself to direct enemy fire as he twice scaled a wall to aid wounded Marines and carry them to safety.

Fifty years later, a humble Canley downplays the heroism and leadership he displayed during that week of fierce fighting.

"It's about taking care of subordinates," Canley said in a Marine Corps video interview. "As a leader, as long as subordinate unit leaders take care of their people, you don't really have to worry about the mission."

"I think if a Marine comes to you with a problem, you must do whatever within your power to alleviate that problem," he added.

For his heroism in Hue, in 1970, Canley was awarded the Navy Cross, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. The Navy Cross is the second highest award for valor that a Marine or Sailor can receive.

But his fellow Marines in Alpha Company led an effort to have his actions reviewed to see if they merited the Medal of Honor.

After a review lasting nearly four years, Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed that Canley's heroism merited the Medal of Honor.

Rep. Julia Brownley, who represents Canley's congressional district in Oxnard, California, sponsored legislation that would waive the five-year time limit on presenting the award.

"Sgt. Maj. Canley and his heroism really brought Congress together when we needed to pass this bill," Brownley told ABC News. "As we all know we’ve been in hyperpartisan times, but we all came together, leadership on both sides of the aisle, hopefully, because of our patriotism, but motivated by Sgt. Major Canley.”

“He is an extraordinarily humble man and he never talks about his role," Brownley said. "He always talks about his Marines, his Marines that he loved then and he loved now, and when they speak of him, some have called him a giant of a man, that he was invincible, that he was a Marine’s Marine.”

Canley retired from the Marine Corps in 1981 after serving 28 years as a Marine. Trump said he had enlisted at the age of 15, using his older brother's paperwork to join the Marine Corps.

Today, Canley is in remarkable physical condition considering he's 80 years old, leading President Trump to remark he looked fit enough to serve in the Marine Corps. "Nobody would know the difference" he joked.

A recent video provided by the Marine Corps shows him holding his own while working out with young Marines nearly a quarter of his age.

"I think physical training is something you should put on the top of your list, whether you're a Marine or a civilian," said Canley. " All I can say is keep it up, I think it'll pay dividends."

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Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his recent comments about Saudi Arabia's denials of any involvement in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi were not an attempt to give the oil-rich ally cover.

“No not at all, I just want to find out what's happening,” Trump told reporters.

He added that he expects to know who is at fault for Khashoggi’s alleged murder “by the end of the week.”

His comments came amid swirling speculation that Turkey may have audio tapes that reveal what happened to Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and royal insider who has been missing for over two weeks after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu Wednesday but refused to express any doubt or skepticism about the legitimacy of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I keep hearing we’re giving them some benefit of the doubt. They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out, we’ll evaluate it, it’s not about benefit of the doubt,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane before departing Turkey. “It’s reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it, so they get it right so that it’s thorough and complete… We’ll evaluate this on a factual, straight up basis.”

Khashoggi, who had been living in the U.S., visited the consulate to file paperwork for his wedding and has not been seen since. Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, who has written critically about the Saudi government, was killed, which the Saudis have fiercely denied.

Turkish officials say that a hit squad of 15 Saudis flew to Istanbul for just hours surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance, and they reportedly claim to have audio recordings of Khashoggi being interrogated and murdered.

Trump told reporters Wednesday the U.S. has asked for the recordings “if it exists.”

“We don't know if it exists yet. We'll have a full report when Mike [Pompeo] comes back, that's going to be one of the first questions I ask him,” he said in the Oval Office.

But Pompeo declined to say anything about the tapes, initially telling reporters, “I don't have anything to say about that.” His spokesperson later clarified he has not heard any tapes. It's unclear if Turkey offered him the chance to hear any such recordings.

Pompeo also said the U.S. must wait for the investigations to be completed before responding, casting doubt on the Turkish claims and underscoring the importance of U.S.-Saudi ties.

“We need to know the facts before we begin to formulate what the appropriate response for this would be,” Pompeo said. “I do think its important everyone keep in their mind we have lots of important relationships, financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, government relationships, things we work on together all across the world,” saying these relationships are in Americans’ best interests.

President Trump echoed Pompeo on the importance of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia in an interview with Fox Business News this morning. Asked if he was going to walk away from Saudi Arabia if the investigations reveal a hit job on Khashoggi, Trump said “I don’t want to do that,” citing a $110 billion weapons deal with the Kingdom.

“I hope that the King and the crown prince didn't know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes. I hope they haven't,” Trump said, referring to King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Trump said he planned to see Pompeo either Wednesday night or Thursday morning to get a readout of his meetings with the Saudis and Turks.

Pompeo’s tone on the Saudi-led investigation is stronger than last week when he released a statement calling for Saudi Arabia to “support a thorough investigation” and “to be transparent about the results of that investigation.”

The Turks are leading the investigation and have at times faced some difficulties with the Saudis, who did not grant them entry to the consulate until Monday and stalled Turkish police looking to inspect the Saudi consul general's residence until Wednesday.

Despite that, Pompeo reported that President Erdogan felt the Saudis have been cooperative, and the two countries will share information. Erdogan said there had been “a couple of delays,” according to Pompeo, but the Turks feel confident now the Saudis will admit them to the consulate to perform their investigation.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A plane carrying first lady Melania Trump was forced to turn around shortly after takeoff Wednesday after reports of a "burning smell" by members of the press on board the flight.

One reporter said there was “a thin haze of smoke and smell something burning.”

The smell quickly became stronger about 10 minutes after takeoff, she added.

A crew member said the smell was from “a malfunctioning comms unit” on board. A source described it as a "minor technical issue" and that the first lady was "fine."

This is a developing story.

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ABC News(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) -- With just three weeks until voters decide a surprisingly pivotal U.S. Senate race in the state of Texas, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke faced off in an at-times-testy debate in San Antonio Tuesday evening, as both men sought to paint their opponent as the wrong choice to represent the nation's third-largest state.

Both candidates lobbed attacks throughout, taking more aggressive stances as the race enters the final stretch and Democrats try to keep their fledgling hopes of re-taking the Senate alive despite a difficult host of races in many states President Donald Trump won handily in 2016.

Cruz consistently sought to portray O'Rourke as an "extremist" on issues ranging from health care to abortion to illegal immigration, saying the El Paso Democrat is running a campaign that appeals to "left-wing national activists," and not the state of Texas.

O'Rourke, whose energetic bid to unseat Cruz has garnered a crush of national media attention and historic fundraising numbers, pushed back against Cruz more aggressively than at any other point in the campaign, even reprising the nickname bestowed on the GOP candidate by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"Sen. Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He’s going to make up positions and votes that I’ve never held or have ever taken," O'Rourke said, "He’s dishonest, it’s why the president called him 'Lyin' Ted,' and it’s why the nickname stuck — because it’s true."

Cruz, who recent polls show is maintaining a high single-digits lead in the race against O'Rourke, shot back at his Democratic challenger.

"Well it’s clear Congressman O’Rourke’s pollsters have told him to come out on the attack, so if he wants to insult me and call me a liar, that’s fine," Cruz snapped.

O'Rourke also reprised his attack on Cruz for focusing on his presidential ambitions so soon after he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and criticized the tone of his Republican opponent's campaign.

"Look all you’ve heard from Sen. Cruz is what we should be afraid of. It’s a campaign based on fear," O'Rourke said, "It’s the same person who shut down the government of the United States of America for sixteen days, perhaps because he though too many people had too much healthcare."

The two also clashed over the issue of border security, and on whether or not building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is the best way to reduce illegal immigration.

"Congressman O'Rourke doesn't want to build the wall," Cruz said, again calling his opponent's views on the issue "extreme."

O'Rourke said there needed to be a greater focus on screening methods for people entering the country, and hit Cruz for his vote against a permanent solution for Dreamers, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The two also sparred over the issue of judicial appointments, and Cruz said he was "proud" to help confirm both of Trump's nominees to the Supreme Court -- Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The conservative firebrand who has made a career out of rankling member of both parties, bemoaned a lack of civility in today's politics, something he again blamed on the "anger" and "rage" from a far-left "mob," evoking rhetoric that has been used by the president recently on the campaign trail.

"There is a loss of civility, there is an anger, there is a rage on the far-left that is really frightening," Cruz said, "The images of a left-wing mob beating on the doors of the Supreme Court, that’s not good for our country. We can disagree while treating each other with respect, while treating each other with civility."

In his attempts to paint O'Rourke as a figurehead of the liberal "resistance" movement, Cruz said the Democrat would not be able to work with Trump as a member of the Senate and would instead incite a "partisan circus," by supporting impeachment proceedings against him.

"Really interesting to hear you talk about a partisan circus after your last six years in the U.S. Senate," O'Rourke said to laughter in the audience. "Listen if you have this special relationship with President Trump, then where is the result of that? You were all talk and no action. The tariffs that the president has levied, the trade wars that he has led us into, is hurting no state more than it’s hurting Texas."

Cruz cited his work helping to pass the Republican tax reform bill last year as an area where he has delivered for the state of Texas.

At the conclusion of the debate, O'Rourke offered a closing statement in the same vein of the soaring rhetoric that has earned him comparisons to former President Barack Obama and the late Robert Kennedy, comparisons his Republican detractors say are overblown.

"The bitterness, the partisanship, the pettiness, the dishonesty that defines so much of the national conversation: We are in desperate need right now of inspiration," he said. "But I’ll tell you what, traveling the state of Texas, meeting people regardless of their walk of life, their background, their party affiliation, you have inspired me."

Cruz closed by again highlighting his policy differences with O'Rourke on immigration, health care and a host of issues, saying he is also offering a positive vision for the state of Texas.

"Elections are about who we are. Do we choose fear, or do we choose hope? I believe in hope," Cruz said.

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Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump lashed out at adult-film star Stormy Daniels and her attorney Tuesday morning, vowing to “go after” the pair, who he referred to as “Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer.”

The tweet from Trump comes a day after a federal judge in California handed the president a rare legal victory in his ongoing legal battles with Daniels.

Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti – who has been teasing a possible run for president against Trump in 2020 - wasted little time in responding in kind to the insults, calling Trump a “disgusting misogynist and an embarrassment to the United States.”

“Bring everything you have,” Avenatti crowed, “because we are going to demonstrate to the world what a complete shyster and liar you are.”

Also firing back on her (usually) not-safe-for-work Twitter feed, Daniels wrote, “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present your president.”

“[H]e has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control on Twitter AGAIN!” Daniels wrote.

The barrage of Twitter barbs follows a ruling Monday by US District Court Judge S. James Otero that dismissed Daniels’ defamation claim, one of two lawsuits she filed against the president.

Otero ruled that a tweet Trump sent earlier this year mocking Daniels’ credibility was free speech protected by the First Amendment.

The judge noted that Daniels had "sought to publicly present herself as an adversary" to Trump, and that to deny him the ability to engage in responding to her allegations "would significantly hamper the office of the President."

An attorney for the president, Charles Harder, characterized that ruling in a statement as "a total victory for President Trump and a total defeat for Stormy Daniels."

The court also ordered Daniels to pay Trump’s legal fees and costs associated with defending the lawsuit. The amount has yet to be determined.

Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti quickly filed a notice of an intention to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The dismissal of the defamation claim has no bearing on Daniels’ separate lawsuit challenging the validity of the non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about her allegations of a sexual tryst with Trump in 2006.

Trump has denied her allegations.

The defamation claim from Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, was originally filed in New York federal court earlier this year. The lawsuit claimed Trump acted with "actual malice" and "reckless disregard for the truth" when he posted a tweet mocking her claim that she was threatened by an unknown man to stay silent. The case was later transferred to federal court in California.

In an April appearance on ABC’s "The View," Daniels and Avenatti released a sketch of the man she claims menaced her and her toddler daughter in 2011 in a Las Vegas parking lot shortly after she granted an interview to In Touch magazine about her alleged relationship with Trump, then a real estate mogul and reality-TV star.

Daniels alleges the man told her to "leave Trump alone" and to "forget the story."

The magazine didn’t publish its story about Daniels claims until January of 2018 - after the Wall Street Journal published the first accounts of a non-disclosure agreement signed just weeks before the 2016 election.

In interviews with The View and on CBS’ 60 Minutes earlier this year, Daniels intimated that either Trump or his then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen, must have been behind the alleged threat.

To date, no evidence has emerged to support the claim.

One day after Daniels revealed the sketch - Trump ridiculed the claim on Twitter as "a sketch years later about a non-existent man." He called it a "total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools."

In deciding in favor of the president, Judge Otero - who is also overseeing Daniels' pending lawsuit over her non-disclosure agreement - ruled that Trump's tweet "constitutes 'rhetorical hyperbole' normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States."

"Any strongly-worded response by a president to another politician or public figure could constitute an action for defamation," Otero wrote in his opinion. "This would deprive the country of the ‘discourse’ common to the political process."

"Such a holding would violate the First Amendment," Otero ruled.

Otero also denied Daniels' efforts to engage in what he called a "fishing expedition" to seek evidence that Trump was aware of the alleged threat.

Otero has scheduled a hearing for early December on Trump and Cohen’s motions to dismiss Daniels’ other lawsuit, which seeks a court ruling that the $130,000 non-disclosure agreement she signed in late October 2016 in invalid. Those proceedings have been on hold for months, following the April law-enforcement raids on Cohen’s law office and residences in New York.

Trump initially denied having any knowledge of where the money to pay Daniels came from, referring reporters’ questions in April to Cohen.

He subsequently acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the costs of the deal but has maintained he learned about the arrangement only after the fact.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including one count of violating campaign finance laws in connection with the deal with Daniels. At a plea hearing in federal court in Manhattan, Cohen told the court that he had acted “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

“I participated in this conduct for the principal purpose” of influencing the election, Cohen said.

Cohen is due to be sentenced in December.

Last month ABC News reported that Cohen is cooperating with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, sitting for multiple interview sessions that were also attended by prosecutors for the Southern District of New York.

Cohen and Trump have recently abandoned their opposition to Daniels’ lawsuit, effectively conceding that the non-disclosure contract is void, and they have each asked Judge Otero to dismiss the claim.

Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, has countered that the case should continue because the public deserves to know why a candidate for president and his attorney were so determined to silence his client.

"I have been practicing law for nearly twenty years," Avenatti tweeted last month.

"Never before have I seen a defendant so frightened to be deposed as Donald Trump, especially for a guy who talks so tough," Avenatti wrote. "He is desperate and doing all he can to avoid having to answer my questions. He is all hat and no cattle."

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